Regent's Park and Primrose Hill in Literature and Music
Authors - O to S
Oldham, Andrew Loog (P) -
see The Rolling Stones
Ollier, Charles (1823)
O'Mahony, Nora Tynan (P)
Orczy, Baroness Emmuska
Owen, Jane (P)
Parker, Robert B.
Parsons, Tony (P)
Payn, James (1875)
Pearce, Brian Louis (P)
Pepys, Samuel (1688)
Perry, Charles James (1826) (P)
Potter, Jeremy (P)
Pozzuoli, H.G. (1898)
Primrose Hill Residents (P)
Pückler-Muskau, Hermann, Fürst
Redding, Cyrus (1822) (P)
Reed, Talbot Baines
Rhys, Jean (P)
Richardson, Henry Handel (P)
Rossetti, Christina (c1830)
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (c1830)
Rossetti, William Michael (P)
Rothenstein, John (P)
Rowe, Richard (1880)
Samson, Polly (P)
Scovell, Edith (P)
Self, Will (P)
Settle, Mary Lee
Shaw, George Bernard (1898)
Sheffield, John, Duke of Buckingham (1726)
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (1814) (P)
Shepard, Ernest H
Simoneaux, T.J. (P)
Sims, George Robert (1881)
Sinclair, Iain (P)
Sinclair, May (P)
Smith, Dodie (P)
Smith, John Thomas (1828)
Smith, Terence George Michael
Smollett, Tobias (1751)
Spencer, Herbert (1861)
Stevenson, Robert Louis (1882)
The Reverse of the Medal. 1986. HarperCollins, 1997.
'"It will probably be one of them," said Stephen, as his coach
carried him swiftly towards the Regent's park...There was no sun, but
the high pale sky sent down a strong diffused light and Stephen recognized
the man almost at once. He smiled, ducked under the rail and walked
out over the rough meadow towards the distant figure. Far to the west
a flock of sheep were grazing, white on the vivid green: he passed a
hare in her form, clapped close with her ears flat, persuaded she was
invisible and so near he could have touched her, and at a suitable distance
he called out "Duhamel, I am happy to see you again," taking
off his hat as he did so' (p.276-277).
Circa 1814: the two men are spies, Duhamel in the French service, and
a bargain has been struck involving the restoration of a diamond 'far
more brilliant, far bluer than Stephen's mental image, a most glorious
thing, cold and heavy in his hand.'
'"Thank you," he said, slipping it into his breeches pocket
after a long moment's silent gaze, "I am very much indebted to
you, Duhamel...Shall we walk back towards the town?...Generally speaking
questions are out of place in our calling, but may I ask whether it
would be safe for you to come and drink a cup of coffee with me? There
is a French pastry-cook in Marylebone who understands the making of
coffee, a rare accomplishment in this island"' (p.278).
The awfulness of English coffee was a frequent cause of complaint. A
German visitor, Karl P. Moritz, wrote, ''I would always advise those
who wish to drink coffee in England, to mention beforehand how many
cups are to be made with half an ounce; or else the people will probably
bring them a prodigious quantity of brown water; which (notwithstanding
all my admonitions) I have not yet been wholly able to avoid.' (Letter
of 5th June, 1782, in Travels, Chiefly on Foot, Through Several Parts
of England in 1782.)
And Some of Us Much Worse. Trafford Publishing,
'Unless it was raining, Nurse took us out for a walk every day and with
us came Teddy, our Scotch terrier on a leash. We lived at 9 Saint James
Terrace, which ran along Regent's Park, opposite the zoo. We would cross
Prince Albert Road, cross the Union Canal and then be in Regent's Park.
One day, while crossing the canal, I looked down and saw something interesting.
"Oh, look, Nurse," I said, "What's that?"
"Well, that's a barge and as you see, it's being towed by a horse
that walks along the towpath...A barge is like a van or a lorry on the
road. Anything could be in it. Often it is coal"' (p.15).
The author was born in 1927 and enjoyed a privileged
childhood, in a house that was 'tall and narrow, with sixty-six stairs
from street level to our nursery on the third floor.' There were frequent
excursions to the park.
'One day there was a very nice barge, freshly painted,
with red flowers in green pots on the deck, a little black and white
dog running around, and white clothes hanging on the line.
"Now that's a barge that people live on. It's their home. You can
see the woman has hung her washing on the line."
"But what about the horse," I asked. "Where does he sleep
at night? Where is his stable?"
Nurse thought a bit. "I don't know that. I think horses can sleep
anywhere. I think horses can sleep standing up."
I put my legs apart, closed my eyes and said, "I don't think I
could sleep standing up"' (p.16).
Twenty Years' Experience as a Ghost
Hunter. Heath Cranton, 1916.
'Visiting the Zoological Gardens in Regent's
Park, one day in the summer of 1898,' the author was struck by 'the
look of yearning in the eyes of one of the lions, the desperate look
of yearning to have just five minutes gambol on the sunny lawn outside...and
sniff, perhaps for the first time, the fine fresh air of freedom' (p.148).
He gets into conversation with an old man and his granddaughter about
the cruelty of keeping large animals in cages. The man believes that
they go to 'another world' when they die, to make up for their suffering.
'"I used to be a keeper here many
years ago...I remember one instance in particular...A young lion came
here from East Africa...I know it hated its cage, and I used to do all
I could to comfort it...One day it fell ill, caught a chill, so we thought,
and evinced a strong dislike to its food"' (p.149). He had gone
home as usual that night when '"something came over me that I must
go for a walk...Minnie suddenly exclaimed, 'Grandad, let's go to Regent's
'"We...got to Gloucester Gate just
about dusk. We had passed through, and were walking along the Broad
Walk by the side of the Zoo, when Minnie suddenly caught hold of my
arm, and said, 'Look, Grandad!' I followed the direction of her gaze
and there coming straight towards us from the Zoo walls, was a lion...It
aimed straight for us, and upon its getting close to I recognised it
at once it was the young lion that had been taken ill. To my
astonishment, however, there was nothing of the invalid about it now.
The expression in its eye was one of infinite happiness...It came right
up to us, and I stretched out my hand to touch it...and to my surprise
my fingers encountered nothing the lion had vanished...What we
had seen was a ghost"' (p.150-151).
Returning to the Zoo the next day he is
told that the lion had died at eight o'clock the previous evening, '"which
was the exact time we had seen it in the park"' (p.151)
The Literary Pocket-Book For 1823.
Ed. Leigh Hunt. Charles and James Ollier, 1823.
'When we first saw that the Marylebone Fields were enclosed, and that
the hedge-row walks which twined through them were gradually being obliterated,
and the whole district artificially laid out...we underwent a painful
feeling or two, and heartily deplored the destructive advances of what
generally goes by the name of improvement...A few years however have
elapsed, and we are not only reconciled to the change alluded to, but
rejoice in it. A noble park is rapidly rising up...' (p.107-108).
'The water is very extensive. As you are rowed on it
the variety of views you come upon is admirable: sometimes you are in
a narrow stream, closely overhung by the branches of trees; presently
you open upon a wide sheet of water, like a lake, with swans sunning
themselves on its bosom; by and by your boat floats near the edge of
a smooth lawn fronting one of the villas; and then again you catch the
perspective of a range of superb edifices, the elevation of which is
contrived to have the effect of one palace' (p.110).
O'MAHONY, NORA TYNAN
A Ballad of Primrose Hill from The Windsor Magazine, September
'I always thought of London
As overcrowded, full;
That all its streets were dust-strewn,
Its skies o'ercast and dull.
I never knew that Regent's Park
Could be quiet and still,
Or that the linnet and the lark
Thrilled over Primrose Hill.
But oh! to wake each morning
Near that sweet, precious green,
And hear the wood-doves crooning
Behind a leafy screen.
And oh, to walk at even
Let nights be warm or chill
One is not far from heaven,
A-top of Primrose Hill...'
ORCZY, BARONESS EMMUSKA
The Regent's Park Murder. 1902.
Reprinted in The Old Man In the Corner, Greening & Co., 1909.
'At last it was another policeman, F 22, who, turning into Park Square
West from the north side, almost stumbled upon the body of a man lying
on the pavement with his head against the railings of the Square' (p.264).
The culprit, on the foggy night of 6th February 1907,
turns out to be 'young John Ashley, who is the son of a very worthy
country gentleman who is Master of Foxhounds somewhere in the Midlands'
(p.268). Evidence of the brutalizing effect of blood sports?
The Orton Diaries. Ed. John Lahr. 1986. Methuen
'Monday 20 March ...Long walk through Regent's Park. Sunshine
and the first ghastliness of Spring. Found that the café in the
park was partially open. Bought an orangeade and a Coca-Cola. Sat in
the blazing light and noticed how hideous the bright sunshine made everyone
(including myself) appear. Like blanched and unsavoury apes. Felt scratchy
and soiled' (p.118-119).
'Sunday 30 April. Rang Kenneth Williams this morning
at 9.30. I arranged that Kenneth H. and I should go down and pick him
up at his flat at 10.30. We thought it might be nice, as it was a fine,
sunny morning, to go for a stroll in Regent's Park. When we arrived
Kenneth greeted us with a beaming smile...We walked into the park. "Which
way shall we walk?" I said. Kenneth tossed his nose in the air.
"Well, I'm not one for your walking," he said. "Let's
get a deckchair and have a sit down. Watch all the queens passing. That's
what I like." We found three deckchairs and had to wipe the birdshit
from them before they were fit to sit on. "All this excrement is
a disgrace!" Kenneth said. We sat for a while in the sun and talked'
had appeared in the original production of the author's play Loot, before
it had transferred to the Criterion Theatre in November the previous
year. Kenneth H. was Orton's lover, Kenneth Halliwell. He was to murder
Orton four months later and then take his own life.
Camden Girls. Penguin,
'On her left the grass slopes gently down towards london zoo and on
her right it rises steeply up to provide a perfect hill for running
down with your arms spread wide, for careering down straight towards
one of the neat little victorian gas lamps dotted alongside all the
paths although they're lectric now so I don't suppose you can call them
gas lamps any more but they still look like gas lamps in fact the whole
park looks just the way it did in a hundred and one dalmatians...' (p.105).
Juno has 'walked through the iron gates into primrose
hill park' at 2.19 pm on a Saturday, 'cocooned in a warm and mild alcoholic
haze all her own', for a breather during a weekend of pubs, parties,
raves and assorted drugs (p.104-115).
At the summit 'the brown smudge of pollution is clearly
visible stretching right across the horizon in a murky stripe 'twixt
land and sky but it's not always like this. There've been bright spring
days when Juno has stood here and watched hard fluffy clouds race boisterously
down a three lane skyway westbound towards heathrow...foggy winter days
when only the bare trees are visible, the tips of their branches poking
up from the mist like the hands of drowning sailors going down for the
last time' (p.107).
I Wonder: Essays for the Young People. Macmillan, 1911.
'Not long ago, I was in Regent's Park: and so was the Spring. Blue sky,
pink almond-blossom, and green buds, were given away to all: and I had
done nothing to deserve this treat. It is true that I had been chilled
and fogged by a most unkind March: and I did feel that the Spring was
bound to warm and air me, and to make me fairly comfortable. She had
kept me waiting so long, while she was putting on her new gown: she
could hardly say now that she was not at home...' (Essay VII, The Wonder
of Beauty, p.85).
The author had a career in medicine before establishing himself as 'an
eloquent and accessible writer for young people...his self-deprecating
humour, his classical learning, and his lack of self-righteousness made
him a popular writer in his generation' (Oxford Dictionary of National
'All that she had, she gave to me. For my sake, she had woven light
and air into a veil, set the almond-blossom against the sky, and covered
the hedges with shining buds: she had even remembered to put the amethysts
on the dwarf rhododendrons at the lower right-hand corner of the Broad
Walk, just to please me. To the rest of us she was equally kind; she
made love to us all. But the point is, that she made it to me; and would
have made it none the less, if I had been the only man there: indeed
she would have made it all the more...Am I God, that Spring should thus
work miracles in my name, and give her Kingdom to me?' (p.86).
PARKER, ROBERT B.
The Judas Goat. André
'Meet me at the cafeteria end of the east tunnel near the north gate
entrance to the London Zoo in Regent's Park' (p.35).
The detailed instructions in the note are for the American
private eye on his first visit to England. He reconnoitres the meeting
place beforehand (p.37-39), but realizing it's a trap keeps out of sight
when the girl the 'Judas goat' arrives (p.53-54). An assassination
attempt at his hotel, followed by a horrible steak and kidney pie ('like
a bowling ball in my stomach') at the aforementioned cafeteria, can't
have made him keen to revisit London.
Man and Wife. HarperCollins,
'I liked the lights on Primrose Hill. They were, and still are, those
old kind of Victorian street-lamps. Tall and black with a chunky glass
casing at the top. Those lamps look like throwbacks to some older, lost
city, the London of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, peasouper fogs and tugs
on the Thames. The lamps had not been illuminated when I arrived...but
night was falling at last and they would be turned on soon. The crowds
were thinning. It was becoming too dark for ball games, the pampered
dogs of the neighbourhood were almost exhausted, and the young lovers
were strolling off arm-in-arm...I decided to take a quick walk to the
top, and then go home' (p.228).
Harry had arranged to meet Kazumi there hours earlier,
but a family crisis had intervened; he's hoping against hope that she
will return there. Surprisingly she does, but a week later, over dinner,
he realizes that his dream of starting a new life with her would never
'On Primrose Hill we said goodbye...It was still very
early. There were dogs and joggers everywhere, people rushing to work
with a cappuccino in their hand...I watched her walking down Primrose
Hill, on one of those strange little paths that abruptly crisscross
the park, pointing off in completely different directions, just like
the impossible choices you are forced to make as you move through your
life. I watched her until she was gone...And just as she walked from
the park and I finally lost sight of her, something happened, although
I might have imagined it. It felt like the lights went out all over
Primrose Hill. I never saw her again' (p.283).
Walter's Word. 3 vols. Tinsley Brothers, 1875.
'At a little before three o'clock...Walter Litton presented himself
at the lodge-gate of Willowbank. A carriage-drive that wound among a
pretty shrubbery just clothed in its first summer tints, so as to suggest
the notion of extent to what was - for London - in reality a considerable
frontage, led to the entrance-door of the mansion; its principal windows,
however, looked upon a smooth, shelving lawn, which sloped down to the
water, and was, even at that season, gay with parterres of flowers.
To left and right of it were more shrubberies, interspersed with some
fine, if not stately, trees; nor was there anything to suggest that
the place was within miles of the Great Metropolis, except that solemn,
far-off roar, which might well be taken for the murmur of the summer
Willowbank is 'one of those large houses standing in
extensive grounds of their own, on the banks of the ornamental water',
and its owner is anxious to buy a painting that Walter is exhibiting
at the Royal Academy. Taking a dislike to the man Walter refuses to
sell, but eventually agrees after the intervention of the owner's beautiful
daughter. 'She led the way out of doors..."This view from the lawn,
Mr. Litton, we think is very pretty," were her first words..."Some
people object to its looking out upon the Park with its nurserymaids
and children, but I am not so exclusive"' (vol.1, p.204-205).
Dinner parties at Willowbank take up much of volumes
1 and 2; later there is a visit to the Botanical Gardens (vol.2, p.120-134).
PEARCE, BRIAN LOUIS
Storm on Primrose: For Francis Bacon from
The Proper Fuss. University of Salzburg, 1996
'On Primrose Hill, a stormy
light catches you, the last past
Master of broken marks; plast-
ers you against the downcast
black mass of ground and sky
scarcely lighter. The thin mast of post
put there by Brandt no
doubt, is even darker...'
The poem was inspired by Bill Brandt's photograph of
Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill.
The Diary of Samuel Pepys.
Ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews. Vol. 9, 1668-1669. G. Bell &
'...We abroad to Marrowbone and there walked in the garden [Marylebone
Gardens], the first time I ever there, and a pretty place it is; and
here we eat and drank and stayed till 9 at night; and so home by moonshine,
I all the way having mi mano abaxo la jupe de Knepp [my hand up Knepp's
skirt] con much placer and freedom...' (p.189).
Pepys was Clerk of the Acts (Secretary) at the Navy
Board (the Admiralty) when he took Elizabeth Knepp (or Knipp), an actress
in the King's Company, for an outing on 7th May 1668. The usual hanky-panky,
recorded in a mixture of foreign phrases, ensued in the coach on the
way home, but despite the softening effects of wine and moonlight he
didn't get everything he was after.
PERRY, CHARLES JAMES
Poetic Reflections On Viewing Blood Hill from
The House of Mornington, a Pastoral Drama; with miscellaneous poems.
W. Watson, 1826.
Blood Hill was 'so designated, from the Circumstance
of two Brothers having fought thereon, one of whom, was killed by the
hand of the other: Primrose Hill adjoins it, and has afforded the Author
an agreeable opportunity for Digression' (p.77). After a brief account
of the awful deed the author beseeches his muse to
'Direct my mind from ground of fated ill,
To yonder beacon! - music-titled hill;
The modest primrose decks its sloping side,
As tho' it with its native verdure vied;
With chaste desire, reveals its sov'reign will,
And stands confest - the Queen of Primrose Hill...
Its lofty point, above the Temple's fane!
The City's crowd, aspirant seek to gain;
Leaving awhile the hum of busy care,
To cull the flow'ret, and inhale the air...'
The canal too gets an approving nod, and winds its way
to a patriotic finale:
'Beneath its slope, in silent wendings glide,
The narrow stream, on which the vessel rides;
Bearing our inland commerce to that strand,
Where kings, and palaces securely stand;
Protected by a valiant people's pow'r...'
Duels were a frequent occurrence on Primrose Hill and
the legend is recounted by other writers, but I haven't found any other
mention of a Blood Hill. Where exactly was it? A.M Eyre, in Saint
John's Wood: Its History, Its Houses, Its Haunts and Its Celebrities
(Chapman & Hall, 1913), says, 'The summit, Barrow Hill, on the western
side of Primrose Hill, has been beyond the memory of man bare of all
vegetable substance. The popular tradition was, that there were two
brothers, enamoured of the same lady, who met to decide by arms to whom
she should belong. Both died at the same time, each by the weapon of
his adversary!' (p.250-251).
The Private Life of Kim Philby: the Moscow Years.
Rufina Philby. St. Ermin's Press, 1999.
'It has taken me a long time to get here. My journey started in a London
park on a sunny afternoon more than forty-three years ago' (p.245).
The most famous member of the Cambridge Spy Ring was addressing an audience
of KGB officers in 1977, some 14 years after he had fled to the Soviet
Union. In a previously unpublished memoir he recalls the day in 1934
when he was recruited.
'I met my friend, as arranged, at Chalk Farm...We then
began one of those journeys which were to become exasperatingly familiar:
taxi, bus, underground, a few minutes on foot, then underground, bus,
taxi - or in any other order. Two hours after our meeting in Chalk Farm,
we were walking across Regent's Park. A man rose from the grass in front
of us, and my friend stopped. "Here we are," he said. "On
the dot." I shook the stranger's hand and looked around. My friend
was already walking away' (p.220).
The stranger introduces himself as Otto (he was actually
Arnold Deutsch, a senior officer of the OGPU/NKVD). 'We sat down on
the grass. He placed himself facing one way and me the other, suggesting
that I should keep an eye open for anyone paying us undue attention.
Our conversation lasted less than an hour, but within a few minutes
it was clear that, although Otto said nothing in so many words, I was
being approached with a view to recruitment into one of the Soviet special
services' (p.221). See also the Cairncross
entry, where Otto strikes again.
Looking For You. Hearing
After forty years the boating pond is smaller.
Here I tried to drown my fears,
a boulder in my chest
as I circled to escape Victoria Station,
the train journey to boarding school,
a last holiday treat from mother.
Now mother's treat is the rose garden.
Her face likes the stroke of the scented breeze.
She shuffles to the ducks, licks an ice cream,
on holiday from herself...'
From one of a sequence of poems about his mother's Alzheimer's
Primrose Hill is grandmother:
large body, huge cheeks and the kind
of face that won't let go of life.
Today, standing at the top, below clouds
the colour of grubby underwear,
I see Canary Wharf blink its lights,
bully the East End...'
Yellow sun and blue sky have greened
the canal to dusty emerald.
A barge sweeps past, swamping
crisp packets, its chug chug
soothing to me. But where is the horse?
No clipitty-clop on the towpath
or pull and plod of its doleful stare?..'
Wish I May. Picador, 2004.
On a rare day out together Kate and her cousin end up at the park, 'walking
through the rose garden towards the lake, with bread to feed the ducks,
just like they'd done as children'. Crossing the bridge to the island
she feels a longing for 'freedom
the ungoverned island
from the real world' (p.151-152).
Collected Poems. Faber,
One poem, Queen Mary's Rose Garden (p.290), describes a 6am visit
to 'a wonderland / hedged in and evidently inviolate':
'In this day before the day nobody is about.
A sea of dreams washes the edge of my green island...
The great roses, many of them scentless,
Rule their beds like beheaded and resurrected and all silent royalty,
The only fare on my bare breakfast plate
Written in 1960 when the author was living in Primrose
Letters Home. Faber, 1990.
On 21st April 1960, three weeks after her daughter was born, she sat
on a bench in the park 'facing the sun' and wrote to her mother, 'They
are mowing the lawns everywhere, and the smell of cut grass, plants,
and warm earth is delicious. Nothing is so beautiful as England in April'
(p.377). A lyrical description of another visit a few weeks earlier
with her husband Ted Hughes appears on p.373
The Primrose Hill Murder.
Constable & Co., 1992.
'They were exploring the bushes and brambles in a field at the foot
of Primrose Hill some two or three miles from the City when Bromwell
spied some objects scattered on the ground beside a hedge: a belt, a
stick, a pair of gentleman's gloves and the scabbard of a sword. Further
searching revealed what appeared to be the body of a man sprawled face
downwards in the neighbouring ditch' (p.64).
On the 17th October 1678 two men out hunting for hedgehogs
had chanced upon the corpse of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, a prominent
magistrate. It transpired that the murder had been committed elsewhere
and the body brought to Primrose Hill to be dumped. Construed as part
of the 'Catholic Plot', it swiftly became a national scandal. The means
by which the corpse was transported to such an inaccessible spot were
much debated. In a pamphlet published in 1681 (A Letter to Miles
Prance), quoted in Thomas Coull's The History and Traditions
of St. Pancras (1861, p.63), the area was said to be 'surrounded
with divers closes, fenced in with high mounds and ditches; no road
near, only some deep dirty lanes, made for the convenience of driving
cows, and such like cattle, in and out of the grounds; and those very
lanes not coming near 500 yards of the place.'
Medals were struck to commemorate the event, one showing
the victim walking with a broken neck and a sword in his body. On the
reverse St. Denis is shown bearing his head in his hand, with the inscription
'Godfrey walks up hill after he is dead; Denis walks down hill carrying
his head.' The murder has remained an unsolved mystery, and in this
historical whodunit the author puts forward his theory as to the cause
and the circumstances.
top of page
Lived at 1 Chester Gate for 17 years from the mid-1930's.
Temporary Kings. Heinemann, 1973. (Vol. 11 of
the novel sequence A Dance To the Music of Time.)
'The Stevens house in Regent's Park... had room for a marquee to be
built out on a flat roof at the back.' A musical party is held there
in the summer of 1959, subsequently a fight breaks out amongst the departing
guests (Chapter 5). A sentence on p.250, 'A breeze, fresh, almost country-scented,
blew in from the Park's tall cluster of trees', is the only description.
Faces In My Time. Heinemann, 1980. (Vol. 3 of
his autobiography To Keep the Ball Rolling.)
Recalls from the winter of 1946-7 the murder of 'a youngish woman in
Regent's Park. She turned out to be a virgin, and the motives were never
traced...the corpse removed...in a parti-coloured blanket, a macabre
The Strangers All Are Gone. Heinemann, 1982.
(Vol. 4 of the autobiography.)
Mentions his cat, 'a briefly-owned Russian Blue, victim of an accident
in the Outer Circle' (p.22). Violence and sudden death seem to have
been the author's abiding impressions.
POZZUOLI, H.G. (pseudonym
of C.L. Graves and E.V. Lucas)
The War of the Wenuses. J.W. Arrowsmith, 1898.
Reprinted by Routledge/Thoemmes, 1998.
'They flocked to my wife's banner, which was raised in Regent's Park,
in front of the pavilion where tea is provided by a maternal County
Council... My mother, who joined the forces and therefore witnessed
the muster, tells me it was a most impressive sight...The members of
the Ladies' Kennel Club, attended by a choice selection of carefully-trained
Chows, Schipperkes, Whippets and Griffons, garrisoned various outposts...Leaving
Regent's Park by the Clarence Gate, they passed down Upper Baker Street,
along Marylebone Road into Edgware Road' (p.96-98).
'Translated from the Artesian of H.G. Pozzuoli', the
title page says, and the two Punch contributors who wrote this parody
of H.G. Wells's The War of the
Worlds have stuffed it with jokes and puns. Some are fairly obvious
(artesian/wells), some rather laboured (a pozzo is a well in Italian;
Pozzuoli is an Italian city with mineral water springs), some are lost
on modern readers. But to continue with the story:
Earth has been attacked by 'astral women' from the planet
Wenus, arriving in spaceships shaped like huge crinolines. 'A vision
of ultra-mondane loveliness', their terrible Mash-Glance destroys men
in an instant. Two regiments of Life Guards are 'razed to the ground.'
Disguised in his wife's skirt and cook's Sunday bonnet the narrator
has gone into hiding; meanwhile his wife has organized an army of women
to march on Whiteley's department store, where the Wenuses are encamped.
Her army too is destroyed, by strategically deployed cups of tea, and
the Wenuses depart undefeated, ascending into space in giant soap bubbles.
PRIMROSE HILL RESIDENTS
Primrose Hill Remembered.
The Friends of Chalk Farm Library, 2001
'I remember as a child when sheep safely grazed on Primrose Hill, on
the upper slopes. Uniformed gatekeepers patrolled the Park and the Hill
daily, and at dusk they would blow on a whistle, giving you minutes
to hurry out or be locked in for the night. The year 1939 changed this
scene: ack ack guns replaced the sundial on top of the Hill: air raid
shelters were dug out on the far side and the gates and iron railings
all taken to make weapons for the war effort' (p.29-30).
This excerpt from Name Dropping Here and There
by Dorothy Gwen Starling is typical of many personal accounts in a collection
that provides a history of the Primrose Hill neighbourhood in the 20th
century. There are other memories of the Hill on pages 42, 44, 46-47,
59, 89 and 103.
Lived at 12 Regent's Park Terrace from 1956 to 1996.
Did You Invite Me? From Camberwell Beauty
(1974), reprinted in The Complete Short Stories of V.S. Pritchett.
Chatto & Windus, 1990.
'The tame and once princely oasis where the trees looked womanish on
the island in the lake or marched in grave married processions along
the avenues in the late summer, or in the winter were starkly widowed
night, hearing the animals in the zoo, they could send out silent cries
of their own
The two central characters in this story live on opposite sides of what
seems to be Regent's Park, though it isn't identified as such and the
houses surrounding it are 'small, white, stuccoed' (p.871).
Jeremy Treglown, in V.S. Pritchett: A Working Life
(Chatto and Windus, 2004), quotes from a letter about the sounds from
London Zoo on a night in spring: 'the hippos mating and roaring
the parrots, monkeys, seals
screaming with love
like a huge
laughing party' (p.183). Walking in the park and on Primrose Hill in
his final years, 'he had to remind himself that it was thought best
for old men not to talk to people they didn't know.' In his notebook
Pritchett wrote, 'If you sit on a seat and merely say "Nice Day",
there will be shocked silence. There will be a firm silence. You are
a walker, not a talker
Best sight children of course. They
can run' (p.250).
Bringing the House Down. John Murray, 2006
'My parents did not wish a ragamuffin for a son, and, even on excursions
to Regent's Park, Nanny would distract me from any activity that might
involve conspicuous dirt. There were some private gardens nearby, to
which we held a key, and here was garaged my red pedal-car, which I
could drive sedately around the gravel paths without fear of mud appearing
on my sandals. I was cosseted and spoiled, and was, I suppose, a regular
little Caspar Milquetoast' (p.133).
Avoiding conspicuous dirt must have seemed ironic in
hindsight. His father, John Profumo, was Secretary of State for War:
the scandal that led to his disgrace, and its repercussions on the family,
dominate this autobiography. The author, born in 1955, lived at 3 Chester
Terrace until he was nine (the interior of the house is described on
pages 129-135). The sensational events of 1963, the 'Profumo Affair',
were still some three years in the future when he experienced the 'first
indirect intimation of mortality...among the flowering cherry trees
that lined the avenue leading to the park.'
'I had been given a furry leopard with a zippered compartment
in the lining designed, I think, for storing one's pyjamas. As we walked
towards Queen Mary's Rose Garden, I scooped up as many as I could of
the delicious pink blossoms and stuffed them for safekeeping into the
belly of my new pet, intending back in the nursery to recreate a fragrant
orchard of my own...The cuddly cat was forgotten until some days later
when I opened it up and was assailed by the sour mash of the fermented
petals. How could those crisp, coral-coloured flowers have betrayed
me and become this mess of clenched and bruised tissue?' (p.143-144).
Puckler's Progress: The Adventures of Prince Pückler-Muskau
in England, Wales and Ireland as told in letters to his former wife,
1826-1829. Trans. Flora Brennan. Collins,
'London, October 5th 1826. The town has greatly gained from the new...Regent's
Park...Here Art has completely solved the difficult problem of concealing
her operations in apparently freely growing Nature. You would think
that a broad river was flowing far into the distance between luxuriantly
wooded banks and there dividing into several branches, while in fact
all you have before you is a laboriously excavated, shored up and confined,
though clever piece of water.'
The author, a former soldier and diplomat, had come
to England in search of an heiress. He had obtained a divorce when it
seemed that the only way to stave off imminent financial ruin was for
the prince to marry another - and wealthy - wife; a not unusual solution
for the time except that the couple still adored each other. A talented
landscape designer himself, he concluded:
'So charming a landscape as this, with commanding hills
in the distance and surrounded by a mile-long circus of splendid buildings,
is certainly a design worthy of one of the capitals of the world, and
will, when the young trees have become old giants, scarcely find an
equal anywhere' (p.21-22).
The Tea-Garden in The London Magazine,
August 1822, no. XXXII, vol. VI.
'At length I found myself on the top of Primrose Hill...Few great cities
in the world can show such a vicinity. The Regent's Park, with its handsome
buildings, lay at my feet like a mass. Its clumps of young plantations,
and the tall trees here and there of a darker shade of foliage, the
villas, the church spires innumerable of "proud Augusta,"
the "sister hills that skirt her plain," with lofty Harrow
in the distance, the canal lacing the green turf with a winding stripe
of water of a luminous blue colour, the little silvery lakes scattered
about, reflecting their "living light," and the modern Babylon
stretching right and left away until it was lost in the obscurity of
the atmosphere, formed together a coupe-d'oeil of magnificent though
mingled character, partly natural, and partly artificial' (p.136-137).
The author meets up with a friend who turns out to be
an early prophet of global warming; he has been studying weather patterns
and assures him that 'the Regent's Canal will one day be choked up with
mangroves.' A harmless crank, in the author's opinion.
'We walked to the bottom of the hill, on the side of
Chalk Farm, that most pugnacious of tea gardens, celebrated in the annals
of duelling, and renowned among volunteer riflemen...We now entered
the garden, surrounded by boxes, in which people of every age, and both
sexes, were regaling themselves. Every spot was occupied with a table
or form, save where the green sward extended itself, and a number of
children were gambolling. We entered the tavern, and while sipping our
port, amused ourselves with contemplating the company outside' (p.138-139).
The article is signed 'W' but is attributed to Cyrus
REED, TALBOT BAINES
A Dog With a Bad Name. The Boy's Own Paper, 1913.
'His steps lead him round [Regent's Park] and into the long avenue.
The rain and the wind are dying down, and already a few wayfarers, surprised
by the sudden storm, are emerging from their shelters and speeding home...And
there, coming to meet him, sheltered under one umbrella, are two who
perhaps have no grudge against the storm for detaining them in their
walk that afternoon... They meet the tramp and the young couple.
They never heed him; how should they? But a turn of the umbrella gives
him a momentary glimpse...' (p.247-248).
Down on his luck, the sight of two figures from Jeffreys's past brings
back bitter memories. 'How long he stood, statue-like, looking down
the path by which they had gone neither he nor any one else could tell.'
The park closes but he lingers in the area, unwilling to leave. 'The
noisy streets had grown silent, and a clock near at hand had struck
two when he found himself on the little bridge which crosses the canal.'
Here he encounters another outcast. 'Jeffreys had seen misery in many
forms go past him before, but something impelled him now to rise and
follow the footsteps of this wanderer.'
'Weak and weary as he was' he 'can't keep pace with the figure flitting
before him,' who soon disappears from sight. 'The sullen water, hissing
still under the heavy rain, gave no sign as he ran along its edge and
scanned it with anxious eyes. The high bank on his left, beyond the
palings, became inaccessible from below. The wanderer must, therefore,
be before him on the path. For five minutes he ran on, straining his
eyes and ears, when suddenly he stumbled. It was a hat upon the path'
The would-be suicide turns out to be another figure from the past; it's
'a turning point in his life,' and now Jeffreys's fortunes start to
mend. The park provides the venue for a reunion with his beloved (p.311-312),
but not before the lady has to send an unwelcome admirer packing (p.278-280).
top of page
The Keys To the Street.
'The Outer Circle, so busy by day, was deserted at night and no single
car was parked on its gleaming surface. The great terraces, palaces
in woodland, slept heavily behind dark foliage, and though many of their
eyes were shuttered, some were alive with orange light. Lamps were lit
along the pavements as far as he could see in each direction. The spaces
between them were filled with shiny darkness' (p.4).
Hob has arrived at Cumberland Gate where a dealer sells
him cocaine; after snorting it in Park Village East he beats up a man
in the Primrose Hill area. But there are worse things happening: a multiple
murderer is impaling his victims on the park's spiked iron railings.
The whole story takes place in the park and its immediate vicinity,
described in guide book detail.
Voyage in the Dark. 1934. Penguin Classics, 2000.
'Sometimes it was hot that summer...I had been sitting out on Primrose
Hill. There were swarms of children there. Just behind my chair a big
boy and a little one were playing with a rope. The little one was being
tied up elaborately, so that he couldn't move his arms or legs. When
the big one gave him a push he fell flat. He lay on the ground, still
laughing for a second. Then his face changed and he started to cry.
The big boy kicked him - not hard. He yelled louder. "Nah then,"
the big one said. He got ready to kick him again. But then he saw I
was watching. He grinned and undid the rope' (p.64-65).
Anna is in a troubled relationship with her wealthy
lover, and despondent about the future: 'When it was sad was when you
woke up at night and thought about being alone and that everybody says
the man's bound to get tired.' Primrose Hill does not offer much consolation.
'There was no sun, but the air was used-up and dead,
dirty-warm, as if thousands of other people had breathed it before you...After
a bit I went home and had a cold bath' (p.65).
RICHARDSON, HENRY HANDEL
(pseudonym of Ethel Florence Robertson, née Richardson)
Henry Handel Richardson. The Letters. Ed. Clive Probyn and Bruce
Steele. Miegunyah Press, 2000. 3 vols.
'16 May 1912...London is pleasant now very green and fresh; and
sheep feed in all the parks. I have one of them known as Primrose
Hill opposite my house, and often I am awakened at dawn by the
sheep arriving that are being driven in from the country' (vol.1, p.354).
The Australian-born writer lived at 90 Regent's Park Road from 1910
to 1934. She is probably best known for her coming-of-age novel, The
Getting of Wisdom (1910; a film version was made in 1977), but The Fortunes
of Richard Mahony is generally considered her greatest work.
'27 October 1913...I have little news to give you, for I seldom go out
except for my daily constitutional in Regent's Park. There I
walk every afternoon, wet or dry, following always precisely the same
paths, and thinking over the paragraph or the chapter to come. It is
a fine open park, with some of the oldest trees in London in it, and
a great expanse of sky overhead. When it is wet, or foggy, no one walks
there but myself, and I can imagine I am in my own private grounds'
'9 November 1913...I enter Regent's Park by a little gate almost alongside
the North Entrance to the Zoo a footpath, with bridge over the
canal: in early summer a wilderness of white and pink may...You will
remember the little park called Primrose Hill as well? The house
I live in faces Primrose Hill, so I have always a great green sweep
before my eyes. I cannot live with only houses to look out on' (vol.1,
The Rope Ladder. OUP, 2007.
'It was really cold that day, so cold the edges of the canal had frozen.
The ducks couldn't work it out. As I walked along the towpath I watched
them trying to walk on the ice and falling over. The wolves were cool
about the cold though because they came from the frozen north. There
were eight of them visible, more than I'd ever seen out of their tunnel
at one time. Eight breaths pluming in the wild cold air. Some of them
stood, noses up, others turned and trotted and stopped. And trotted.
All sniffed the air, smelling the Arctic coming towards them...Something
was different, something was changing. That's what they told me. I watched
my breath plume, and I felt it too' (p.188-189).
The 15-year-old's relationship with the wolves in Regent's Park Zoo
has become increasingly important to him in the troubled period since
the death of his father; trying to think 'wolf-thoughts' helps him to
calm down. On a subsequent visit he finds the enclosure is being demolished:
the wolves have been moved to the zoo at Whipsnade. He fills his backpack
with provisions and returns to the park.
'I veered off the path and headed for some bushes. I crawled in among
them. In the middle was a body-shaped dip covered in dead leaves. I
lay down to try it out. It was very comfortable. I was suddenly incredibly
tired. I could have closed my eyes and just fallen asleep but I made
myself sit up...I looked up through the leaves and branches. Even though
it was almost dark, the sky looked quite bright compared to the branches.
..Nine fifteen. By now, I knew, the park gates had been locked and Mum
would be in a major panic. I laid down my head on the pillow of leaves
and closed my eyes' (p.194).
When his absence is discovered Mum suggests that the police search Regent's
Park "he used to love to see the wolves there"
and he is found next morning.
Poems. Oxford University
'Dahlias down the banks flow crisp and bright,
the grass is winter-short and pungent,
dipping oars are plangent,
and in the light mist, dripping grey like silk,
water and trees and air seem smoothed in milk...'
From In Regent's Park (p.7), two stanzas of description
followed by four of imaginative speculation.
The Siren Years: Undiplomatic Diaries, 1937-1945.
'29 September 1941...This afternoon Elizabeth and I went to see the
roses in Regent's Park. For days we had been talking of those roses,
but I could never get away from the office before nightfall...Then one
perfect September afternoon she telephoned me to say that if we did
not go today it would be too late - they were almost over...As we walked
together I seemed to see the flowers through the lens of her sensibility.
The whole scene, the misty river, the Regency villas with their walled
gardens and damp lawns and the late September afternoon weather blended
into a dream - a dream in which these were all symbols soaked with a
mysterious associative power - Regent's Park - a landscape of love.
A black swan floating downstream in the evening light - the dark purplish-red
roses whose petals already lay scattered - the deserted Nash house with
its flaking stucco colonnade and overgrown gardens - all were symbols
speaking a language which by some miracle we could understand together'
The author was a Canadian diplomat, in the first flush
of his affair with Elizabeth Bowen.
(Her novel, The Heat of the Day, dedicated to him, draws upon their
relationship). His diaries record visits to her home in Clarence Terrace,
and its subsequent destruction.
'2 June 1942. I went to see Elizabeth this afternoon
and found her standing on the balcony of her sitting room that looks
over Regent's Park. The tall, cool room is full of mirrors and flowers
and books...Later we walked out into Regent's Park. It was a blazing
June day - we sat on the bank by the canal watching the swans "in
slow indignation", as she says, go by' (p.143).
'20 July 1944. Elizabeth's house in Clarence Terrace
has been hit by a blast for the third time. She has at last decided
to move out now...It was the last house in London which still felt like
a pre-war house. There was always good food, good talk and wine (as
long as wine lasted) and a certain style. Then I liked the house itself
with its tall airy rooms and good, rather sparse furniture... (p.176).
By Jack Rosenthal: An Autobiography in Six Acts.
Robson Books, 2005.
'EXT FOOTBALL PITCH - REGENT'S PARK - LONDON - DAY - 1984
It's Sunday morning. A gaggle of ten sleepy, slightly
bored boys and one girl, all in white shirts and black shorts, take
the field. They include David Shindler and Adam Rosenthal. These are
the Little Londoners, playing in a local junior league. Although, to
David's dad and Adam's dad, they're not. They're the England team playing
in the World Cup Final, possibly in Brazil.
The two dads are their embarrassingly fanatical coaches.
Jack is the more embarrassing of the two. While the Little Londoners
saunter about the pitch, dreaming of their half-time oranges, their
coaches harangue them with vein-bulging screams from the touchline...The
Little Londoners win the league and the Cup Final, without much caring.
Their coaches, however, punch the air in ecstatic triumph -
COLIN AND JACK: Yes!' (p.305-306).
The author had written over 150 screenplays for TV and
feature films before deciding that this would be the best form for his
The Rossetti family lived at numerous addresses in the vicinity of the
park. Christina was born in 1830 at 38 Charlotte Street (now Hallam
Street), near Park Crescent.
Some Reminiscences of Christina Rossetti. William
Sharp. The Atlantic Monthly. Volume 75, Issue 452, June 1895.
'I don't derive anything from the country at first hand! Why, my knowledge
of what is called nature is that of the town sparrow, or, at most, that
of the pigeon which makes an excursion occasionally from its home in
Regent's Park or Kensington Gardens. And, what is more, I am fairly
sure that I am in the place that best suits me.'
In this essay published six months after the poet's
death, Sharp recalls her reply to a questioner who asked whether she
did not find her best inspiration in the country. Other reminiscences:
'Her first real excitement, she declared once...was afforded by a visit
she paid with [her brother] Gabriel to the Zoological Gardens. The two
amused themselves, after their first vivid interest, by imagining the
thoughts of the caged animals. Christina thought that the birds should
be honored by plaintive verses, but Gabriel narrated such whimsical
biographies of the birds and beasts that poetry gave way to fun. Distinct
as the impression was, it was not so durably vivid as that of the walk
of the two children, hand in hand, across the solitudes of Regent's
Park, with a magnificent sunset which, Gabriel declared, he could see
setting fire to the distant trees and roof-ridges.
It was about this time that Christina Rossetti had a
dream, which Gabriel promised to depict, and send to the Academy. She
dreamed that she was walking in Regent's Park at dawn, and that, just
as the sun rose, she saw what looked like a wave of yellow light sweep
from the trees. This wave was a multitude of canaries. Thousands of
them rose, circled in a gleaming mass, and then dispersed in every direction.
In her dream it was borne in upon her that all the canaries in London
had met, and were now returning to their cages!'
A Brief Memoir of Christina G. Rossetti. Ellen
A. Proctor. SPCK, 1895.
'I wonder if the spring-tide of this year
Will bring another spring both lost and dear;
If heart and spirit will find out their spring
Or if the world alone will bud and sing?...'
The author quotes these lines from a volume of Christina's
poems and adds that 'on the margin of this she wrote, "I was walking
in the outer circle, Regent's Park, when the impulse or thought came
to me".' (p.78-79)
Christina Rossetti: A Biographical and Critical Study.
Henry Thomas Mackenzie Bell. Hurst and Blackett, 1898.
Her brother William is quoted as saying 'it would be a mistake to think
that Christina caught from Gabriel a fancy for odd-looking animals
She had it equally herself She knew Wombat and Ratel at the Zoological
Gardens...' (p.209). Ratel, a type of badger, and Wombat are two of
the animals featured in her poem, Goblin Market.
See also the William Rossetti
ROSSETTI, DANTE GABRIEL
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family-Letters. With
a memoir by W.M. Rossetti. 2 vols. Ellis &
Gabriel's brother William recalls that 'our daily walks were with our
mother in and about Regent's Park.' Gabriel was born in 1828 at the
same house in Charlotte Street as Christina. The children also visited
the Camera Obscura in the Colosseum, and Primrose Hill (Vol.1, p.37-38),
and there were frequent visits to the newly-opened Zoo: 'A collared
peccary gave Christina a vicious bite, which came to nothing' (p.38-39).
In the 1870's when Gabriel was in ill health, physically
and mentally, he would 'with George Hakes drive up to some airy spot,
very often the Circles of Regent's Park. There he got out, took a longish
walk with his companion, and then re-entered the fly and drove home'
(p.332). There are no letters mentioning the park in either volume.
See also the Christina Rossetti
ROSSETTI, WILLIAM MICHAEL
Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti.
Brown, Langham & Co., 1906. 2 vols.
'In about 1858 we two were in the Zoological Gardens, and our steps
led us towards a certain enclosure hitherto unknown to us, and little
scrutinized by most visitors. Christina...caught sight of "phascolomys
ursinis" a second before myself, and exclaimed, "Oh look at
that delightful object!" I soon instructed my brother [Dante Gabriel]
what part of the Zoological Gardens he should go to in order to contemplate
the form and proportions of the wombat; he, I surmise, afterwards put
up Burne-Jones to the same quest. Christina, before the end of April
1859, had utilized the wombat in her Goblin Market, and Dante drew his
portrait in the illustration to that poem as published in 1862' (vol.1,
In 1890 the author, younger brother of Christina and
Dante Gabriel, moved with his family to 3 St. Edmund's Terrace, 'a line
of streets raised well above the level of Regent's Park, and not far
below the summit of the closely adjoining Primrose Hill. It is not a
cloud-capt summit, but in London it counts as the nearest approach to
a hill that we have to show' (vol.2, p.440). The new location was praised
for its 'noiseless quiet (for there is scarcely any of the London rattling
and rumbling)' and its benefit to health:
'In this Primrose Hill locality my old friend the London
fog (for which I have always had a sneaking kindness) is considerably
less demonstrative than at a lower level and in closer environments:
many times when there has been a dense fog in London streets, and even
in Regent's Park, there has only been a whitish mist in St. Edmund's
Terrace' (vol.2, p.441).
The author was the son-in-law of the painter Madox Brown,
who lived at no.1, and who, on the early death of his other son-in-law,
invited the widow and children to come and live with him. Madox Brown
was much loved by all his grandchildren; one of them recalled:
'He usually wore a shiny top-hat and a black cape, and
he used to take my grandmother's little dog out for a walk on Primrose
Hill. He couldn't walk very fast because he had the gout, but the little
dog was very old and couldn't go fast either, so it didn't mind. He
would stop from time to time to look behind to see if it was coming,
and then it used to stop too, and sit down and look up at him, and hang
its tongue out and wag its tail, and then they went on again' (Juliet
M. Soskice, Chapters From Childhood, 1921. Turtle Point Press,
Brave Day Hideous Night (vol. 1, 1939-1965, of his Autobiography).
Hamish Hamilton, 1966.
'Elizabeth and I had chosen to live on Primrose Hill on account of its
altitude and the proximity of open spaces and of the Zoo all
affording healthful diversions for Lucy but we found ourselves
the neighbours of a group of artists who were living in close association
with one another...' (p.46).
The author had moved into his new home in Fellows Road in November 1938.
The neighbours included Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore;
living nearby were Mondrian, Walter Gropius and Naum Gabo. Recently
appointed Director of the Tate Gallery, he was fortunate to have found
himself in such congenial company.
'As on most evenings, Elizabeth and I walked on nearby Primrose Hill.
The blue heavens were studded with balloons, which turned with the setting
of the sun from silver to gold. On the Hill's crest long anti-aircraft
guns, camouflaged with foliage, pointed skywards and beside each a helmeted
soldier sat intently with upturned face. On another part of the Hill
people were digging trenches: the work was apparently organized but
carried out with little or no direction from above. Only the vehemence
of a voice, the restrained violence of a gesture showed that this was
no peace-time exercise' (p.55-56).
Soon afterwards the trenches were the scene of a political demonstration.
The Times of 2nd February 1939 reported: 'Carrying fishing rods,
between 20 and 30 unemployed men met beside some A.R.P. trenches on
Primrose Hill, Regent's Park, on Saturday and fished in the water in
the bottom of the trench. They carried posters and streamers demanding
"Give us work on A.R.P." and "Bring Anderson* to 'eel."
Someone had placed a number of eels in the trenches, which had about
2in. of water in them, and these were quickly caught. When some police
officers arrived the men went away.'
*Sir John Anderson, the Home Secretary,
was in charge of air raid precautions.
Picked Up In the Streets; or struggles for life amongst
the London poor. W.H. Allen & Co., 1880.
'On a spring Sunday morning, the heat of which would have been almost
tropical, had it not been for a tempering east wind, I chanced to find
myself in Regent's Park...White and purple lilac were in almost full
bloom. Chestnut-trees, too, were spired with precocious pagodas, and
the blossom-buds of the famous hawthorn-trees were bursting. Dusky,
heavy-fleeced sheep stood grazing, lay dozing, or moved along lazily
upon the wide sunny lawns, and the shadier green of sloping banks of
the brown canal, in which dogs, big and little, were splashing, swimming,
or whining to be pulled out by the ears, or the nape of the neck
glossily-matted masses of moist misery' (p.252-253).
The author had emigrated to Australia as a young man,
and had worked as a journalist as well as writing a number of children's
books. On his return to London he made a study of the conditions of
life among the poor.
'Most of the people in the park were on foot, or seated
on the benches, or lolling on the grass, gazing, meditating, smoking,
reading books and newspapers, love-making, or quietly enjoying doing
nothing. There was a curious medley of people present soldiers
in gay uniforms; paupers in their snuff-coloured Sunday suits; servant-girls
out for a holiday; nursemaids and patresfamilias wheeling perambulators;
sisters of orders; elder sisters of families; hard-worked mothers, in
charge of frolicking little ones; old bachelors moping like herons;
young foreigners walking four abreast, and talking and laughing loudly;
hearty groups of working-men, who met other groups, and saluted one
another with such affectionate greetings as "Well, old Mouldy,
and how's yourself?"' (p.255).
Fanny By Gaslight. 1956.
Fanny is a secretary at a fashionable brothel in Park Village West in
the 1870's, and traverses the park daily to and from work: 'I walked
up to York Gate, cut across the park, and was at Florizel Thirteen by
noon' (p.331). She has assignations at 'Avenue Bridge' (Gloucester Gate
Bridge?), p.250, and in a Private Bar in Park Street (now Parkway),
but the only description is 'it was early April and the park smelt of
spring' (p.253). The Park Village area is described on p.240.
Lying in Bed. 1999. Virago,
'A walk on Primrose Hill with his sister, both shivering as fresh snowflakes,
as large and soft as butterfly wings, whispered to the trodden night's
fall, which was already streaked with brown and corrugated in places
by the early-morning sledges of schoolchildren. The trees like twisted
ironwork against the cold steel sky, the entire hill hushed as London
sighed, its traffic easing through the slush. The only other sound came
from the two strangers, there, down the hill, at the children's swings'
Richard is remembering 'the first moment he set eyes
on Emily' and contrasting it with his present state, for which he feels
her father is largely to blame.
'Soon they were running and shrieking, out of the children's
play area and up the hill, through the now swarming snow. They slowed,
arm in arm, still laughing, as they reached their clandestine audience
of two. The woman, he could see, had snow on her lashes; the man was
much older, much colder, as his daughter greeted Richard's sister, recognising
her from college. They all four went for frothy hot chocolate and apple
strudel in the Polish café across the road' (p.125-126).
I Knew a Phoenix: Sketches For an Autobiography.
The Women's Press, 1995.
On a spring evening in 1938 John Summerson, author of an acclaimed biography
of Nash though as yet un-knighted, takes the author to Clarence Terrace
to admire the 'cream-colored facades with their balconies and pillars
that look like a long elegant palace'. They are on their way to dinner
with Elizabeth Bowen, from whose drawing room Sarton looks down on 'the
silent groves of trees lit up by the street lamps like stage scenery,
and a patch of moonlight below shivering the lake' (p.216).
Collected Poems. Carcanet, 1988.
'Bank Holiday: Primrose Hill
On this, the first Bank Holiday,
Of the laborious year
Such gentleness is manifest
In human shapes, in rainy air,
Darkening - to make all clear
Man and woman need not speak.
But children's voices on the hill
Searching, answering, swing out far.
One, over space uncreated,
Hangs in the evening like a star,
Star-like rocket ripe for breaking -
Quenched now, swooping in what air?'
'Evening on Primrose Hill
Late, the evening's light diffused
Whitens planes and facets of
This tossed sea-surface of the grass.
Where lovers have left one form
And where feet have ploughed and harrowed;
Where the sun lay slack like water;
The millions of the grass
Loosen and breathe invisibly. The evening
Whitens their sides with dust of silver sand...'
Great Apes. Bloomsbury,
'Primrose Hill was, if not exactly crowded, at any rate well stocked,
with chimps of all ages, classes and ethnic groups. Trim, Sloaney mothers
lolloped along the paths, wearing floral swelling-protectors and vocalising
to one another with the extended grunts of their class, as they toted
Mabel, or Maude, or Georgia, the infants dangling off the hanks of maternal
fur that flared from between strands of pearls; or perching like jockeys
between maternal shoulders' (p.82).
Simon Dykes has woken after a heavy night of drink and
drugs to find that the world has changed - the human population has
turned into chimpanzees. His insistence that he is still a human gets
him locked up in a psychiatric ward; after a course of medication he
is taken for an outing.
'By the Regent's Park mosque Simon was amused to see
Muslim chimpanzees. The males wearing skullcaps and flicking inordinately
long strings of worry beads; the females' purdah compromised by their
cutaway chadors. In the branches of the trees that filled the wide verge
between the canal and the road, chimpanzee dossers reposed. Simon didn't
notice them at first - so hidden were they by the foliage, but when
first one leafy limb quivered, then a furry limb tossed out a crushed
Special Brew, he saw the pongid piss artists and once more grinned to
Later there are visits to the zoo 'to confront you with
the reality of your chimpunity' (p.242-252), and then with a film unit
to record his reactions to some 'wild humans' now in captivity (p.368-376).
A 'conga-line of copulation' is observed in the park - 'some culturally
marauding phalanx of Benelux language students and their teachers had
become mixed up with three distinct groups of patrolling cockney males'
SETTLE, MARY LEE
Celebration. 1986. Hutchinson,
'The full moon flooded Regent's Park and made shadows under the trees
like some false day. At the most exotic of the Nash terraces, the one
said to have been inspired by Mrs. Fitzsimmons but named for Lady Hester
Stanhope, two shadows jumped down into an empty areaway. They forced
open a window that had not been opened in years into a long-disused
kitchen...Fifty people, including four small children and a baby, crossed
it silently into the house' (p.143).
It is 1969 and the house being squatted is part of a
(fictional) terrace that has been deserted since the war. The event
quickly makes the headlines and Teresa Cerrutti, an American anthropologist
staying at a flat in Primrose Hill, goes down there one evening, hoping
to talk to them.
'Six stories up among the pinnacles above the classic
roof facade, behind the balustrade of rain-streaked gods and nymphs
and satyrs, a line of dirty London putti stood in the rain and chanted
to the sky over Regent's Park, "No. No. No. We won't go"...
In the distance, the roofscapes of Stanhope Terrace and the London Mosque
made an eastern sky vista of roofs, pinnacles and domes. Night lights
and car lights made the gold dome and the rain puddles gleam' (p.152-153).
Once inside she discovers that the original 'peaceful
hippy' occupation is now dominated by a hardline anarchist group with
a very different agenda, and is glad to make her escape. 'It had been
raining again a little, only enough to make the pavements shine. There
was faint mist from the lake in the park...It gentled the shapes of
the towered terraces and blurred the street lamps as if she had lost
some precision of sight' (p.158).
The Hotel of the Beautiful Star in Papers
Critical and Reminiscent. William Heinemann, 1912.
'On a hot night in July, when travelling thunders have been loosening
long sudden avalanches of wind through a barren desert, I have lain
below a hawthorn-bush in Regent's Park, and dreamed I was far from London.
For, harsh in the silence, came the same restless cry of cranes I had
heard in the shallow Moorish waters beyond Tunis; then, bewilderingly,
the screams of the great-skua and the cormorant, recalling twilit shores
in the wave-washed north; then, savagely, the aow-aow-aow of a wolf,
the sullen, snarling howl of the jungle tiger, or abruptly, the sickeningly
near roar of a hunger or heat-maddened lion. But I was in London, after
all; and the finch sitting in the hawthorn over her second brood did
not stir, nor did the little cluster of sheep, like gray boulders cropping
above the grass, edge further from the elm shadows into moonlit safety.
I had forgotten where I was within a few yards of the enclosed trees
of the Zoological Gardens...' (p.369-370).
The author was a friend of the Rossetti
family and familiar with all the literary figures of the period. Although
he wrote and edited almost forty books under his own name he is best
known now for novels such as The Sin Eater that were written under the
pseudonym of Fiona MacLeod.
'One mild March some years ago...I was on Primrose Hill
about midnight...I was given to mounting its grassy slope occasionally
o' nights, partly for the sake of the scintillating view on fine evenings
and the sealike mass of the foliage of Regent's Park, and the Zoological
Gardens, and partly for the free play of air at that relatively high
and uncontaminated spot of smoky London. It used to be a favourite resort
on warm June and July nights for those who preferred a couch on the
soft grass to a weary tramp of the pavements or the hard mercies of
a stone seat or iron-clamped wooden bench. I have seen more than a score
of sleepers, apart from the many couples who lingered long and late
on that rather bare and prosaic Mons Amoris' (p.358-359). Stumbling
over a recumbent figure in the darkness, he makes the acquaintance of
a young self-proclaimed genius and subsequently invites him home for
top of page
SHAW, GEORGE BERNARD
Collected Letters. Ed.
Dan H. Laurence. Max Reinhardt. Vol. 1, 1874-1897, pub. 1965.
During this period Shaw lived at various addresses in the vicinity of
the park: 37 Fitzroy Street (December 1880 to April 1882), 36 Osnaburgh
Street (April 1882 to March 1887) and 29 Fitzroy Square (from March
1887), but the only park reference is to having started writing a play
there (8th July 1895, p.539).
Vol.2. 1898-1910. On 22nd March 1898 he finished reading
William Cooper's History of the Rod and 'biked round Regent's Park to
purify myself with the clean night air after it. Park not altogether
free from improprieties, but quite frosty-pure after Cooper' (p.21).
(See the Nabbs entry for improprieties
some 250 years earlier.) The letters indicate frequent visits of the
'once round Regent's Park on the bike and then to bed' type (p.28):
e.g. 'As I walk around the park at night, looking at the other stars,
I no longer feel forty-two' (p.23).
It was advisable for other park visitors to keep well
clear of Shaw when he was on his bicycle his recklessness resulted
in frequent accidents, including on one occasion 'demolishing' Bertrand
Russell's plus-fours on an excursion to Tintern Abbey, recounted in
Vol. 1, p. 558 and 560.
Bernard Shaw. Michael Holroyd. Chatto, 1998.
Vol.1 References to the park on p.157 (walk with Edith Bland
married name of Edith Nesbit in 1886); p.285 (walk with Beatrice
Webb, 12th June 1893); p.285-286 (writing The Philanderers in the park
and Primrose Hill, amongst other places, 1893); p.291 (seeking inspiration
for a new play, 18th August 1893); p.388 (writing You Never Can Tell
'from a wintry chair in Regents Park', January-May 1896).
Vol.3. Androcles and the Lion shared the bill with The
Six of Calais at the premiere of the latter in July 1934 at the Open
Air Theatre (p.352-353). There is also a photo (19B) of GBS at a rehearsal.
SHEFFIELD, JOHN, DUKE OF
The Works of John Sheffield Earl of Mulgrave, Marquis
of Normanby, and Duke of Buckingham. 2 vols.
'After I have dined (either agreeably with friends, or at worst with
better company than your country-neighbours) I drive away to a place*
of air and exercise; which some constitutions are in absolute need of:
agitation of the body, and diversion of the mind, being a composition
for health above all the skill of Hippocrates. The small distance of
this place from London, is just enough for recovering my weariness,
and recruiting my spirits, so as to make me fitter than before I set
out, for either business or pleasure.
(Vol 2, p.214).
This testimonial to the restorative effects of Marylebone
Park appears in A Letter to the D--- of Sh--- [Duke of Shrewsbury],
who had asked the author why he remained in London after resigning his
position as Privy Seal in 1705. Sheffield's claims
to be visiting the park for the good of his health were mocked by contemporaries
such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who alluded to his favourite form
of 'exercise' in one of her Town Eclogues (1715):
'At the Groom-Porter's, batter'd bullies play,
Some dukes at Marybone bowl time away.'
Thomas Pennant, in Some Account of London (1805),
commented that Sheffield 'has omitted his constant visits to the noted
gaming-house [the Rose Tavern] at Marybone, the place of assemblage
of all the infamous sharpers of the time. His grace always gave them
a dinner at the conclusion of the season, and his parting toast was,
"May as many of us as remain unhanged next spring, meet here again."'.
SHELLEY, MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT
The Journals of Mary Shelley.
Ed. Paul R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert. Clarendon Press, 2 vols.,
'Sunday 2nd October . Peacock comes after breakfast - walk over
primrose hill - sail little boats return a little before four...
Monday 3rd. Read Political Justice. Hookham calls - walk with Peacock
to the lake of Nangis and set off little fire boats. After dinner talk
and let off fireworks...
Wednesday 5th. Peacock at Breakfast. Walk to the lake of Nangis and
sail fire boats...' (vol.1, p.30-31).
'The lake of Nangis' was one of the Primrose Hill ponds;
Nangis was a small French town the boating party had visited a few weeks
earlier. The future author of Frankenstein was seventeen, and not yet
married. For information on Peacock and the other boaters see the Clairmont
SHEPARD, ERNEST H.
Drawn From Memory. 1957.
A.A.Milne's illustrator lived as a boy at 10 Kent Terrace (backing on
to Hanover Terrace) in the 1880's, and in this memoir recalls his earliest
memory, 'trailing round the park and being lifted from the pram to feed
the ducks by the ornamental water' (p.18). Other park memories concern
cricket games (p. 68), a Boys' Brigade parade on Jubilee Day 1887 (p.81)
and skating on the frozen lake (p.178). A drawback to playing cricket
was the number of other games going on in the park, and the likelihood
of having your ball stolen.
To Signore Torre, on his Firework of Theseus in Hell.
'You, in working of fireworks, all wonders excel,
And one fit for the place of fireworker to Hell.
With your sons of the clergy¹ you'd send them away;
And shou'd Pluto, so grim, be but rouz'd up to flame,
In Hell, as at Marybone, you'd there fix your fame.
Undisturb'd in your fire by no Fountain's² soft vapour,
You'd make Hell all a-ablaze, and the devils all caper.
1. Torre engaged a hundred chimney-sweepers at his benefit,
as children of the Cyclops, which had a droll effect.
2. Mrs. Fountain, of Marybone, school-mistress.'
Torré's firework displays at Marylebone Gardens
were highly popular, attracting both Dr.
Johnson and Fanny Burney at
different times. The text of the poem is taken from a cutting on p.72
of a Marylebone Gardens scrapbook, f 942.11(78), at Westminster City
Archives. No source is given. 'September 1744' is written in ink alongside,
but Torré did not exhibit at the Gardens until 1772. If the occasion
of the poem was his farewell benefit (see note 1) the date would have
'Mrs. Fountain' was probably a relative of the Rev.
John Fountayne, and a teacher at his 'fashionable seminary for young
gentlemen of rank and fortune.' She may also have been the lady said
to have been kissed in Marylebone Gardens by Dick Turpin (see Nollekens
and His Times in the John Thomas Smith entry).
The Nihilist's Holiday. iUniverse Inc., 2003.
'A bench beckons on Primrose Hill. I lean back, letting the wind whip
freely over me, my face, my legs and hands, flimsy jacket flung open
to the chill. I gaze back toward the City. Below, in the big pond, swans
drift, looking like snowflakes awash from here. Somewhere beyond, unseen,
the Thames' (p.187-188).
Ulyse Bland, 'a castaway in the chaos of the late 1970's,'
has fled Louisiana for London after discovering the Sex Pistols on TV.
Visitors from abroad often provide an intriguing new perspective, but
a vision of swans on a non-existent pond at the bottom of Primrose Hill
raises doubts about this fictional one.
'My path to the park skirts the brown, patchy, vacant
and forlorn cricket grounds. Past the pitches I stroll, past shouting
ruggers in long-sleeved jerseys booting and tossing balls back and forth
with much scurrying, legs ruddy in their shorts. Past the zoo, where
I stare through the bars at crowded beasts, blank eyes staring. Past
couples sauntering snug in bright colored woolly jumpers, ungloved hands
clasped cold and white-fingered in unity. Past dogs pulling against
leashes, squatting, growling' (p.187).
SIMS, GEORGE ROBERT
Lived at 12 Clarence Terrace from the 1890's to 1922.
The Lights o' London, 1881. Reprinted in The
Lights o' London and Other Victorian Plays. Ed. Michael R. Booth.
'Act 4. Sc.3. The Slips, Regent's Park...
(Harold and Bess come across bridge - down steps to tree L.)
Harold: We can rest a little while, Bess.
Bess: If I could only rest a little I should be better then. (They sit.)
...Harold, dear, you've never been sorry you married the little country
girl, whose father was your father's servant?
Harold: Sorry! Bess my darling... I'd sooner sit here tonight an outcast
in this desolate park with you by my side than be my father's heir,
with the finest lady in the land for my wife...' (p.156).
The Slips were 'a short section of the Regent's Canal
on the north side of Regent's Park, just below St. Mark's Bridge, where
the canal widens into a small pool or basin used as anchorage...now
Cumberland Basin' (Explanatory Notes, p.248).
Harold has been wrongfully convicted of a jewel robbery
- the culprit is actually his ne'er-do-well cousin Clifford, who, by
one of those coincidences so frequent in this type of play, now 'enters
R on to the bridge, smoking cigarette.' He is followed, unseen, by Seth,
who threatens to expose him unless he makes an honest woman of his daughter.
In the ensuing struggle Seth is pushed into the canal.
'Bess (starting up alarmed): Harold! Harold!...there,
over there, there's a man struggling in the water!
(Harold rushes up on to bridge, flinging his coat off. Bess follows
Bess: Harold, what are you going to do?
Harold: Save a life! (Jumps off bridge into water. Bess stands on the
bridge - gazing half-frantic after Harold.)
Bess: Harold! Harold! (Harold comes up with Seth clinging to him. He
seizes bank and holds on.)
Seth (recognizing him): Harold Armytage!
Harold: Seth Preene! (Business. Curtain.)' (p.158).
One of the first and most popular melodramas, still
being revived 30 years later, the play received a grudging tribute from
The Times: 'It serves to amuse, if not particularly edify, an
audience, and if that standard of merit is to be accepted there is no
doubt that The Lights o' London must be called a successful play.' Conceding
that the scenery of the Slips was 'a tolerably exact reproduction',
the critic went on to wonder at 'the attraction exercised' by such representations
of the real 'when exhibited behind the footlights.'
Other 19th century plays with scenes in Regent's Park
featured the well-to-do rather than the unfortunate. Act 2, Scene 1
of Lost in London (Watts Phillips, 1867) is set in the interior
of 'Ferns Villa'; Scene 2 is the exterior, with 'windows of house brightly
illuminated.' These scenes 'supply Mr. Lloyd with subjects for a series
of effective pictures' (The Times, 12th September 1874), but
the dialogue contains only a glancing reference to the park. Act 1 of
Prince Karatoff, later retitled The Silver Shell (Henry
J.W. Dan, 1892) is also set in a house in the park, but there is no
further reference to it.
The drawing-room comedies of the 20th century continued
this tradition, employing a Regent's Park address purely as a social
marker. In both W. Somerset Maugham's The Unattainable, retitled
Caroline, (1923) and W.F. Casey's As Old As The Hills (1927)
the action 'passes in the drawing-room' of houses with 'French windows
which look out over Regent's Park.'
Allen Ginsberg, Ignite
from Flesh Eggs and Scalp Metal: Selected Poems 1970-1987. Paladin
'"My first job was cutting sunsets
Which then became sunrises"
this kindly crab
hung with his roseate
necklace of chamberpots
squats in the smoke
a banner to his Om-mmm
to earth; chanting
the bearded shadow
falls over backwards
to stay straight
Primrose Hill, July 1967'
There are no notes in this book but the link to Ginsberg's
Primrose Hill poem, Guru, written two years earlier, seems obvious.
'And now, on early evenings and Saturday afternoons when the weather
was fine, Miss Quincey was to be found in Primrose Hill Park. Not that
anybody ever came to look for Miss Quincey. Nevertheless, whether she
was walking up and down the paths or sitting on a bench, Miss Quincey
had a certain expectant air, as if at any moment Dr. Cautley might come
tearing round the corner with his coat-tails flying...At last she saw
him; she saw him twice running...Each time he was walking very fast
as usual, and he looked at her, but he never raised his hat; she spoke,
but he passed her without a word. And yet he had recognised her; there
could be no possible doubt of it' (start of Chapter VIII, A Painful
At an earlier encounter on the hill Miss Quincey felt
that the doctor had shown a particular interest in her, even though
his patriarchal views on the role of women were at odds with her own
tentative feminism (start of Chapter VII, Under a Blue Moon). His behaviour
today is to cause great emotional turmoil. Months later she believes
she has overcome these feelings, but another visit to the scene of their
first meeting will wreck her tranquillity.
'This morning Miss Quincey's heart protested so violently
against her notion of ascending Primrose Hill...that Miss Quincey unwillingly
gave in and contented herself with a seat in one of the lower walks
of the park. There she leaned back and looked about her, but with no
permanent interest in one thing more than another...all the time her
eyes were busy, now with a bush of May in crimson blossom, now with
the many-pointed leaves of a sycamore pricked against the blue; now
with the straight rectangular paths that made the park an immense mathematical
diagram. From where she sat her eyes swept the length of the wide walk
that cuts the green from east to west. Far down at the west end was
a seat, and she could see two people, a man and a woman, sitting on
it...' (from start of Chapter XI, Dr. Cautley Sends in his Bill). A
younger, more attractive rival has supplanted her.
I have not been able to find a printed copy of this
book but the full text is available from Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13522/13522-8.txt
The Divine Fire. Eveleigh Nash, 1911.
'He chose his moment with discretion, when time and place and Flossie's
mood were most propitious. The time was Sunday evening, the place was
the Regent's Park, Flossie's mood was gentle and demure. She had been
very nice to him since his father's death, and had shown him many careful
small attentions...The flowers were gay in the Broad Walk, Flossie tried
to be gay too; and called on him to admire their beauty. They sat down
together on a seat in the embrasure of a bed of chrysanthemums. Flossie
was interested in everything, in the chrysanthemums, in the weather
and in the passers-by - most particularly interested, he noticed, in
the family groups' (chapter LXIII, p.514).
Keith had 'long ago divined her heart' and now finds
that he 'could not meet that look in Flossie's eyes when he thought
of what he had to say to her.' They walk on, and 'under a solitary tree
by the path that goes towards St. John's Wood, he broke it to her gently.'
'Nothing would ever be the same again; that was clear.
The flowers were still gay in the Broad Walk, and the children, though
a little sleepier, were still adorable; but Flossie did not turn to
look at them as she passed. Would she ever look at them, at anything,
with pleasure again? He had made life very difficult, very cruel to
this poor child, whom after all he had promised to protect and care
Special Relationship. 1995. Penguin, 1999.
'"Your friend won't be able to see you for at least an hour,"
the receptionist said finally. "Why don't you enjoy this lovely
sunshine? Regent's Park is just across the road." Annie practically
ran into the park, clearing her lungs of exhaust fumes from Marylebone
Road. She walked up the broad path between gaudy municipal flowerbeds...The
scene was like a Victorian painting, full of incident. There were office
workers eating sandwiches on the grass, old men on benches with their
newspapers, solitary women feeding buns to the birds, children everywhere.
She even saw a proper old-fashioned nursemaid, bowling along a pram
like a miniature carriage' (p.196-197).
Annie has accompanied Rose to an abortion clinic in
Harley Street and is awaiting the outcome.
'She walked as far as the zoo, where a couple of deer-like
creatures stood dejectedly in their dirt allotment. Further on she could
see Lord Snowden's famous new aviary poking into the sky, but it was
time to go back. Rose might need her. As she turned, a shiny red ball
rolled into her path. Annie stopped, looking round to see whose it was.
From a couple of feet away a small boy stared solemnly into her face.
Annie picked up the ball and held it out to him, smiling... She could
see the fresh perfection of his skin, the lustrous lashes fringing clear,
shining eyes...Annie walked back slowly, her thoughts returning to Rose,
hoping she was all right. Though she knew that Rose would never ask,
Annie couldn't help wondering if Rose's baby had been a boy or a girl'
top of page
I Live Under a Black Sun.
1937. John Lehman, 1948.
'Mrs. Vaneldens house was situated in one of the moon-coloured
crescents, or circuses, bordering the edge of Regents Park. Two
crescents, one on either side, overlooked large gardens full of huge
purring leaves and great bright flowers
The crescents and gardens
alike had a faint Regency character, partly, perhaps, because they faced
remote light blue distances, such as one sees in water-colours of the
'(p.153). A detailed description of the house's interior
Look Back With Mixed Feelings. (Vol.
2 of an autobiography.) W.H. Allen, 1978.
'I didn't feel sleepy. I felt in need of fresh
air. I would walk all the way home, cutting across Regent's Park. I
would really look at the spring, try to feel in touch with it, count
my blessings, realize my happiness...It wasn't that I was unhappy, it
was just that my brain felt woolly, not quite alive; that was why I
was having such trouble in playing the clean-cut Dolly. If only I could
get my thoughts clear' (p.256-257).
Best known now for The Hundred and One
Dalmatians, the author first achieved fame with her plays, notably
Dear Octopus (1938). Earlier she had struggled to make a career as an
actress, including on one occasion appearing as Dolly in Bernard Shaw's
play You Never Can Tell.
'And suddenly I did, when I came to some
blossoming trees in Regent's Park. I stood there gazing at them and
knew I was happy, just as happy as the day when I had run out to get
the passport photograph taken. My trouble had just been tiredness. I
would go back to the Club and sleep. But it was early yet, still daylight.
I would walk slowly across the park, enjoying every minute of it' (p.257).
The author was then living at the Three
Arts Club, a girls' hostel in Marylebone Road. 'One early autumn morning
I got up to find the kind of day that tempted me to walk right round
the inner circle of Regent's Park. "Tempted" is the right
word because the three-mile walk was hard on shoe-leather; I had no
solid walking shoes. The weather was sparkling, stimulating, and just
chilly enough to suggest the end of summer. I found myself planning
the kind of clothes I would have for the winter if only I had
some money' (p.212). 'Inner circle' must be a slip of the pen: it is
the Outer Circle that has a three-mile radius.
Look Back With Astonishment. (Vol.
3 of an autobiography.) W.H. Allen, 1979.
'Ever since my girlhood at the Three Arts Club
I had longed for a house on the Outer Circle of Regent's Park and now
we found one. It was that very rare thing a small house on the Outer
Circle and the rent and rates would have been no more than the combined
cost of our flats...What held me back from taking it was that, in spite
of the "Peace in Our Time" atmosphere...I never fully returned
to my blissful confidence that Europe would oblige me by remaining at
This was in 1939, just before she and her
husband decided to leave for America. He was a pacifist, and they were
mindful of how conscientious objectors had been treated during World
Lovers and Friends.
A play in three acts. Samuel French, 1947.
'Prologue. Scene: Regent's Park. A stretch of
grass at the water's edge. Towards the Left, there is a small low mound
from which four slender poplars rise. Towards the Right are two small
park chairs. The water, only a narrow stream, gleams through a fringe
of reeds; beyond it, a further stretch of grass, iron railings and the
Regency houses along the Outer Circle can be seen in perspective. It
is the twilight of a late spring day in 1918. There is still a faint
afterglow of sunset.
On one of the small green chairs RODNEY
BOSWELL is sitting reading...He wears the uniform of a Captain in the
Gunners, with one wound stripe' (p.3).
Rodney is approached by Stella Pryor, who
has to break the news that his erstwhile girl-friend Lennie won't be
meeting him this evening: she has become involved with another man.
Happily for Rodney, he and Stella then fall in love. Acts 1, 2 and 3
take place in the drawing room of the Boswell's house on the Outer Circle,
in the spring, summer and autumn of 1930. The epilogue returns us to
the park, in spring 1942.
'There are only two poplars now...The general
aspect of the scene is much more countrified than in 1918, the grass
is longer and the banks at the water's edge are much wilder. Across
the water, numerous small blossoming trees can be seen. The railings
on the edge of the Outer Circle have gone but trees have grown fuller
and partially obscure the houses on the terraces. Those that can be
seen are shuttered, and look ill-kept' (p.141). Here the three principals
meet to talk about the past and the way their lives have turned out.
The play was first performed in 1943 in
New York. The author's familiarity with the park can be seen in earlier
plays. Elsie, in Call It a Day (1935), describes being accosted
on an evening walk around the Outer Circle, and Catherine reminisces
about a romantic encounter on Primrose Hill. A scene in Bonnet Over
the Windmill (1937) is set on the rooftop of a house 'a street or
two distant from the north side of Regent's Park,' on a warm summer
evening. 'There's quite a bit of breeze. Funny, it's got a sort of hay-ey
smell,' Kit remarks. Janet tells him, 'It often comes in the evening.
I think it's from all the scorched grass in the park.' The smell of
hay was recalled some 30 years later in her novel The Town in Bloom
(1965): 'For a few minutes we talked casually about the view and the
faint smell of hay I thought it must come from the heat-dried
grass in Regent's Park, though it surprised me that the scent should
blow so far' (p.193).
The Hundred and One Dalmatians.
1956. Mammoth, 2000.
'It was a beautiful September evening, windless, very peaceful. The
park and the old, cream-painted houses facing it basked in the golden
light of sunset. There were many sounds but no noises. The cries of
playing children and the whirr of London's traffic seemed quieter than
usual, as if softened by the evening's gentleness. Birds were singing
their last song of the day, and further along the Circle, at the house
where a great composer lived, someone was playing the piano' (p.5).
Pongo and Missis Pongo are 'lucky enough to own a young
married couple' and they all live in 'a small house on the Outer Circle
of Regent's Park'; an idyll that is shattered when their fifteen puppies
suddenly vanish. Scotland Yard are baffled, so it's up to the Dalmatians.
'They led the way right across the park, across the
road, and to the open space which is called Primrose Hill. This did
not surprise the Dearlys as it had always been a favourite walk. What
did surprise them was the way Pongo and Missis behaved when they got
to the top of the hill. They stood side by side and barked...Within
a few minutes the news of the stolen puppies was travelling across England,
and every dog who heard at once turned detective' (p.42-43).
Thanks to the Twilight Barking a total of ninety-seven
puppies are eventually escorted back to Regent's Park, where they all
enjoy a Christmas Day dinner.
In a sequel, The Starlight Barking (1967), the
Pongos, now living in the country, revisit the park and the hill but
there are no descriptions.
The Girl from the Candle-lit Bath.
W.H. Allen, 1978.
'At Hanover Gate I jumped out, paid the driver
and dashed into the park, skirting the bridge quite widely and making
for a tree I could hide behind. I was only half-way there when I saw
Roy coming from Clarence Gate...I ran the rest of the way with my head
averted from him, though he was too far away to see my face clearly.
I got behind the tree before he reached the bridge. There was someone
waiting there' (p.6).
Nan has secretly followed her husband to
the park, convinced that he has arranged an assignation with another
woman. But it's more complicated than that, and the last pieces of the
puzzle involving blackmail, a Russian spy and an attempted assassination
are explained to her in a final scene, back where it all started.
'I got to the Outer Circle a bit early,
paid my taxi off at Clarence Gate and walked slowly towards the bridge.
It was a lovely afternoon, sunny, windless, peaceful. I reckoned up:
it's just six weeks since that night I followed Roy. As I drew nearer
the bridge I saw there were two men standing on it...The Count gently
steered me towards two chairs on the grass saying, "The bridge
makes a charming meeting place but one cannot indefinitely stand up"'
SMITH, JOHN THOMAS
A Book For a Rainy Day; Or, Recollections of the
Events of the Last Sixty-Six Years. Richard
'1772...When we had crossed the New Road [Marylebone Road], there was
a turnstile...at the entrance of a meadow leading to a little old public
house, the sign of the "Queen's Head and Artichoke"...A little
beyond...was another turnstile opening also into fields, over which
we walked to the "Jew's-Harp House, Tavern and Tea Gardens"...Willans
Farm, the extent of my mother's walk, stood at about a quarter of a
mile south; and I remember that the room in which she sat to take the
milk was called "Queen Elizabeth's Kitchen", and that there
was some stained glass in the windows' (p.17-18).
The author, Keeper of Prints and Drawings in the British
Museum, was a small child living at 7 Great Portland Street when he
accompanied his mother on early morning walks 'to take milk at the cow-house',
as advised by her doctor.
'The carriage and principal entrance to Marylebone Gardens
was in High Street; the back entrance was from the fields, beyond which,
north, was a narrow winding passage, with garden-palings on either side,
leading into High Street. In this passage were numerous openings into
small gardens divided for the recreation of various cockney florists,
their wives, children and Sunday smoking visitors...I well remember
my grandmother taking me through this passage to Marylebone Gardens,
to see the fireworks, and thinking them prodigiously grand' (p.39-40).
On pages 40-58 Smith lists a number of 'notices' of
the Gardens that he had collected, forming a potted history of the entertainments
from 1718 to 1776. There is also a reminder of the dangers visitors
could face. In 1746 robberies were so frequent that the proprietor was
obliged to have a guard of soldiers to protect the company to and from
London, and as late as 1760 a reward of ten guineas was offered for
the apprehension of any highwayman found on the road to the Gardens.
Nollekens and His Times. 1828. Century Hutchinson,
'One Sunday morning Mr. Nollekens took me to see the boys bathe in Mary-le-bone
basin. As we were going, our attention was engaged by the beadles of
the parish seizing the clothes of the lads who had gone into the small
pond called "Cockney ladle," supplied with water by an arm
which looked like a ladle from the basin...The basin - which was a very
large, circular, and deep pond, fatal to many an inexperienced youth
- was farther in the fields on the site of part of Portland-Place and
The author was an 'early pupil and assistant of the
great sculptor,' and was 'kindly invited' into Joseph Nollekens's studio
in 1779, when he was 13. The bathing incident is not dated.
'The Orchestra of Mary-le-bone Gardens, before which
I have listened with my grandmother to hear Tommy
Lowe sing, stood upon the site of the house now 17, in Devonshire
Place, and very near where Mr. Fountain's Boarding-school* stood, nearly
opposite to the old Church, still standing in High-street.
* Mr. Fountain [the Rev. John Fountayne], who succeeded
Mr. De La Place in this school, was once walking with Handel round Mary-le-bone
Gardens, and, upon hearing music which he could not understand, observed
to Handel, "This is d-d stuff!" "It may be d-d stuff,
but it is mine," rejoined Handel' (p.23-24).
This was a popular anecdote of the time; a fuller version
is given by Fountayne's grandson. 'One evening, as my grandfather and
Handel were walking together and alone, a new piece was struck up by
the band. "Come Mr. Fountayne," said Handel, "let us
sit down and listen to the piece - I want to know your opinion of it."
Down they sat, and after some time the old parson, turning to his companion,
said, "It is not worth listening to - it's very poor stuff."
"You are right, Mr. F.," said Handel," it is very poor
stuff - I thought so myself when I had finished it."' (Letter from
Norrison Scatcherd in Thomas Hone's Year Book of 1832, p.251.)
The Fountayne family appear in another oft-told tale,
one concerning a less respectable visitor. 'Another frequenter of the
Gardens was the dashing and not unchivalrous Dick Turpin, who is said
to have snatched a kiss in the open from the Reverend Dr. Fountaine's
niece. When she shrieked, half in terror and half in indignation, he
is credited with the rejoinder, nicely suited to his image: "Pray
alarm yourself not, Madame. You can now boast that you have been kissed
by Dick Turpin!"' (Gordon Mackenzie, Marylebone, Great City
North of Oxford Street. Macmillan, 1972, p.32.)
SMITH, TERENCE GEORGE MICHAEL
The Art of Armed Robbery. John
'To our delight we found a specially adapted raised footpath which led
from the banks of a lake at Regent's Park to the inaccessible island
that bred and possessed some of the most beautiful British and tropical
waterfowl in Great Britain...We would wade across the lake to the island
and steal the rare and exotic birds' eggs under the watchful guardianship
of the Royal Parks Police...Sometimes, if we had the money, we would
hire a rowing boat and row under the protective chains to the main island
and steal the birds' eggs to the great distress and anxiety of the combined
duck, geese and swan population' (p.22-23).
Recounting his boyhood exploits, the author explains
that he and his friends 'did all types of amazing and daring feats to
acquire the best egg collection within our exclusive cadre.' Born in
1959, his criminal career had begun prior to these events and progressed
eventually to armed robberies. Not surprising perhaps that he sees little
wrong in robbing nests.
'On another unofficial excursion we decided to invade
London Zoo at Regent's Park and try to steal penguins' eggs from the
architecturally acclaimed penguin enclosure. We would jump over the
wall and calmly walk down the slopes to the wooden nesting boxes and
nick their eggs in full view of amazed onlookers. During another time
we visited the massive Snowdon Aviary at the Zoo. I climbed over the
pedestrian footbridge, climbed up a metal pylon and nicked a white egret's
egg under the noses of onlookers who were now level in height with the
egret's nest. I know that it was a liberty but we egg collectors were
fanatics, as it meant everything to have the best egg collection' (p.23).
The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle.
1751. OUP, 1969.
'Gauntlet saw it would be too much for both to bear their present tantalizing
situation till night, without some amusement to divert their thoughts;
and therefore proposed to pass part of the evening at the public entertainments
in Marylebone gardens, which were at that time frequented by the best
company in town' (Chapter the Last, p.777).
Our hero has inherited a fortune on the death of his
uncle, and has persuaded the fair Emilia to forgive his past transgressions
and become his bride.
'The new-married couple and their company having made
shift to spend the evening, and supped on a slight collation in one
of the boxes, Peregrine's patience was almost quite exhausted, and taking
Godfrey aside, he imparted his intention to withdraw...The ladies were
accordingly conducted to the coach, and Jack proposed to the captain,
that, for the sake of the joke, the bridegroom should be plied with
liquor, in such a manner as would effectually disable him from enjoying
the fruits of his good-fortune for one night at least' (p.779).
Fortunately for the groom the captain is on his side,
and ensures that it is Jack who passes out in the tavern while Peregrine
'hastened on the wings of love to the arms of his enchanting bride.'
An Autobiography. Williams
& Norgate, 1904.
'14th June 1861. I am much better this week and am doing some work.
I am doing it in a very odd way - uniting dictating and rowing. I take
my amanuensis on the Regent's Park water, row vigorously for five minutes
and dictate for a quarter of an hour; then more rowing and more dictating
alternatively. It answers capitally' (vol. 2, p.66).
The philosopher and sociologist was at that time working on First Principles,
the first volume of A System of Synthetic Philosophy which argued that
all phenomena could be explained in terms of evolution. As a proponent
of evolutionary theory his reputation would later rival Darwin's.
Other great minds found the park a congenial place in
which to work. Leigh Hunt had written
verses there, Bernard Shaw wrote plays there, Virginia
Woolf thought 'the greatest happiness in the world' was walking
through the park 'making up phrases there', though none of them ventured
on the water.
SPIRO (afterwards Miller), BETTY
A Room in Regent's Park. Robert Hale, 1942.
'"Let's go on the grass." They turned aside from the path,
and Robert slung lean legs over the four-tiered railings. Judith climbed
them: she was sandalled and stockingless; he watched her sidle along
the rail like a fowl on a perch, as she manoeuvred to descend with decency....This
part of the park, it seemed, was given over exclusively to nurses and
the children in their charge. Little groups of them were everywhere,
having their tea out of picnic sets: the children brushed and bibbed,
sipping Certified milk, eating banana sandwiches, crumbly biscuits,
on Beatl-ware plates: presided over by nurses and nannys in green uniform
or in pink, with starchy white aprons, and correct straw hats...'(p.99-100).
The young couple had previously rendezvoused at Park
Square Gardens, on the south side of Regent's Park, where entry was
restricted to keyholders from the surrounding houses. 'Behind railings,
behind neatly clipped hedges, the lawns lay outspread; tender and green,
amid the cement; an oasis, guarded by privilege' (p.13). Privileged
seclusion, as well as nannys and children, was to disappear once the
German bombing raids began. Judith, who had played in the Gardens as
a child, returns there later and registers the transformation.
'At this hour of the afternoon, the lawns, the paths,
should be alive with children: boys and girls, of various ages, in their
leggings, in their bright coats, should be running across the grass,
cycling on the paths, darting in and out of the bushes: nurses should
be sitting, in grey or navy blue; fingering the Nursery World; gossiping...There
were none. The children's swings hung motionless; the sand in the play-pit
was stale, unaltered... High in the air, a bloated constellation, guarding
the city, London's balloon barrage glinted' (p.203).
STEVENSON, ROBERT LOUIS
The Suicide Club in New Arabian Nights.
1882. Collins Clear Type Press, 1908.
'Rochester House was a magnificent residence on the banks of the canal.
The large extent of the garden isolated it in an unusual degree from
the annoyances of the neighbourhood. It seemed the parc aux cerfs of
some great nobleman or millionaire. As far as could be seen from the
street, there was not a glimmer of light in any of the numerous windows
of the mansion; and the place had a look of neglect, as though the master
had been long from home' (The Adventure of the Hansom Cab, p.97).
The house in fact belongs to the President of the Suicide
Club, who intends this evening to 'assist' at yet another highly profitable
death. Arriving at the rendezvous, he finds the tables are turned. The
intended victim, Prince Florizel, addresses him:
'"President", he said, "you have laid
your last snare, and your own feet are taken in it. The day is beginning;
it is your last morning. You have just swum the Regent's Canal; it is
your last bathe in this world...And the grave you had dug for me this
afternoon shall serve, in God's almighty providence, to hide your own
just doom from the curiosity of mankind"' (p.103).
S.M. Ellis, in Mainly Victorian (Hutchinson,
1925), says that the model for Rochester House was Grove Lodge (later
Nuffield Lodge, now Grove House), at the north-west corner of the park.
It was the home of the writer Frank Smedley, and 'one of the most delightful
houses in London...the President of the Suicide Club meets his death
in a duel with Prince Florizel in a secluded corner of the grounds,
now the site of the Rose Garden' (p.126). Not Queen Mary's Rose Garden
of course, which did not exist at that time.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
1886. Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.
'It was a fine, clear January day, wet under foot where the frost had
melted, but cloudless overhead; and the Regent's Park was full of winter
chirrupings and sweet with Spring odours. I sat in the sun on a bench;
the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side
a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved
to begin' (p.82).
In his 'Full Statement of the Case' Henry Jekyll recounts
his investigations into the 'thorough and primitive duality of man',
and his conviction that if these different elements could be 'housed
in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable'
(p.70). His experiment goes disastrously wrong, and he is further horrified
to discover that he can no longer control the effects of the potion
he has been taking.
'I began to be aware of a change in the temper of my
thoughts, a greater boldness, a contempt of danger, a solution of the
bounds of obligation. I looked down; my clothes hung formlessly on my
shrunken limbs; the hand that lay on my knee was corded and hairy. I
was once more Edward Hyde' (p.83).
Ambushed: A War Reporter's
Life on the Line. ABC Books, 2003.
'In Regent's Park, we wandered through neatly manicured gardens where
the occasional tulip was already in bloom. We strolled past wide tracts
of open parkland, where teenagers and young adults played soccer. Mute,
I watched in covetous wonder at the ease and grace with which the athletes
moved. My mind wandered back to high school and university when I had
played football and rugby. God, I hope I'll do that again, I thought,
still staring at the soccer players gamboling across the green pitch'
The author had been reporting on the conflict in Sierra
Leone in January 1999 when he was hit by a bullet that lodged in the
back of his brain. While receiving treatment for his injuries his sister
and father had taken him for an outing in a wheelchair. But a visit
to the zoo brings back disturbing memories.
'We were approaching the aviary, when from a distance
I spotted several large, black birds at the top of the enclosure. One
jumped a few feet along the tree limb it was standing on; its wings
flapped once lazily. My heart pounded hard and I struggled to catch
my breath. Suddenly the raw London air felt hot and humid; beads of
perspiration formed on my forehead. In my mind I heard gunfire echo
through the crowded zoo. I looked away from the large black birds and
cast a frightened glance over my shoulder at my dad, who was pushing
"Those are vultures. Let's not go over there, OK?"
I said urgently, my chest tightening in a noose of anxiety. For the
rest of the day, my nose was filled with the smell of cordite and rotting
flesh on a Freetown street, and my mind replayed images of vultures
tugging voraciously at human cadavers' (p.261-262).
Flight Into Camden. 1960.
'Down the side of the park stretched a row of beautiful terraces, white
and glistening against the cold blue sky. Howarth explained their architectural
uniqueness as we walked. But I didn't believe in the Nash terraces.
They seemed only a facade to the seething ugliness behind' (p.144).
The Yorkshire miner's daughter has come to live in Camden
Town with her married lover, 'a fall that neither of us knew how to
end.' Her despairing view of their relationship is reflected in her
perception of the wintry landscape.
'The lake had the same shallow artificiality as the
zoo, stretching itself in its low hollow between the trees. The emptiness
was a meagre, polite desolation, anxious not to be distressing. It seemed
merely an absence of buildings, bare and thin with conceding too much.
It was a big, empty park, sighing with the wind, its polite hand over
its aching heart' (p.145).
Blue Shoes. Secker and
'Turning his telescope on the moon
Magnus considers his alibi
himself and Sarah in Regent's Park
stuffing the squirrels with nuts
till one twister bit his thumb...'
From the poem The Alibi (p.40), about a man who
needs a convincing explanation for his bloodstained shirt.
Extracts from the Journal of Henry Luxulyan in
Spiritual Adventures. 1905. Reprinted in Vol.5 of The Collected
Works of Arthur Symons. Martin Secker, 1924.
'April 17...I have been walking in Regent's Park, the nearest country,
and I feel singularly good, wise and happy. That uninteresting park,
uninteresting in itself, has a gift of refreshment, as one turns into
it out of the streets. I find myself leaning against the railing to
watch a little dark creature with red legs and a red bill that swims
between the swans, and clambers up on the grass, and runs about there
stealthily, with a shy grace. There is an island, to which all the water-birds
go, and it is grown over with trees and bushes and green weeds, down
to the edges of the water, and they go there when they want to be alone,
as one goes into a deep wood, out of the streets in which people stare.'
Henry had put most of his money into the Argonaut Building
Society, which has failed. 'I am ruined; what am I to do? I shall have
to earn my living, heaven knows how.' Unable to work or think, he has
gone for a walk in the park.
'Today I was perfectly happy, merely walking about the park. I sat under
a tree for half an hour, and it was only when I realised that a queer
sound which had come to me at intervals, a mournful and deep cry, which
I had heard in a kind of dream, was the crying of the wild beasts, over
yonder, inside their bars, that I got up and came away' (p.173-174).
London: A Book of Aspects. 1909.
Privately printed for Edmund D. Brooks and his Friends.
'I have never been able to love Regent's Park,
though I know it better than the others, and though it has lovely water-birds
about the islands, and though it is on the way to the Zoological Gardens.
Its flowers are the best in London, for colour, form, and tending. You
hear the wild beasts, but no city noises. Those sounds of roaring, crying,
and the voices of imprisoned birds are sometimes distressing, and are
perhaps one of the reasons why one can never be quite happy or aloof
from things in Regent's Park. The water there is meagre, and the boats
too closely visible; the children are poorer and seem more preoccupied
than the children in the western parks. And there is the perplexing
inner circle, which is as difficult to get in or out of as its lamentable
namesake underground. Coming where it does, the park is a breathing-place,
an immense relief; but it is the streets around, and especially the
Marylebone Road, that give it its value' (p.9).
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